1. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Sources of history for the American West

    Discussion in 'Research' started by jannert, Sep 9, 2013.

    I was just corresponding with a person who asked where they could find historical information about the American West. As this is one of my main areas of research, I recommended he look at the various University Presses and their offshoots, as they have published the most historically accurate AND interesting titles you can hope to find.

    My own particular area of interest is Montana, Kansas and the Northern Plains area, during the "cowboy" era of 1870-1890. However, I've read other books as well, and have a passing familiarity with many of the University Presses.

    Some of the presses own websites are excellent, and allow you to browse their entire collection. Other sites are more difficult to use ...for example, the EXCELLENT University of Nebraska Press forces you to zero in on a particular subject before giving you titles ...which isn't always what you want to do.

    I find the best way to browse is to go to Amazon, and enter the specific press names into the search engine, and enjoy what it brings up. You can further focus your search if you add the word 'history' in small case letters after the name of the particular press. I've listed the most helpful ones first, which seem to carry the widest range of subjects. Many of these first few carry offerings from outwith their own states, and deal with western history in general.

    Actually, most states, including eastern and midwestern ones have University-based presses, so no matter what you want to research, it's a good idea to check University Press offerings from any state.

    ......................

    University of Nebraska Press (excellent, most wide-ranging selection)
    Bison Books publisher (historical offshoot of University of Nebraska Press)

    University of Oklahoma Press (excellent, wide ranging selection)

    University Press of Kansas (excellent, comprehensive for Kansas)

    University of South Dakota Press (excellent)

    University of Montana Press (both of these are great for Montana)
    Montana Historical Society

    University Press of Colorado

    University of Nevada Press

    University of Texas Press

    University of Arizona Press

    University of New Mexico Press

    Utah State University Press

    University of California Press
    Bancroft Library Press (offshoot of University of California Press - dealing only in history)

    University of Washington Press

    and the EXCELLENT, but non-university-connected
    Arcadia Publishing

    hope this is helpful...
     
    GingerCoffee and old cogger like this.
  2. old cogger
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    old cogger Member

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    Thank for the in info, and besides I live right next to the University of Oklahoma
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Wow, you lucky dog. Their university press is one of the best.
     
  4. shunoshi
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    The Minnesota Historical Society (http://www.mnhs.org/) has a massive archive of information available; I'm sure other states must have something similar. Some of the resources are available online, but actually being able to visit a historical center's library gives access to an amazing array of artifacts, old newspapers, etc.

    I'm a bit of a fan of the "old west" and have always found it odd that Minnesota is never really thought of in that light even though they were the western border of the US in the mid-nineteenth century and an economic powerhouse in lumber, flour, and iron ore.

    Regardless, check out a few historical societies and you might find something helpful/interesting.
     
  5. old cogger
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    My so-called expertice is 1840 thru 1890, and from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Dakota's. I have my character and setting (Deadwood). I need to get a feel of the surroundings, climate (Mid July 1865) returning from civil war. Also buildings, houses, furnishings, clothing. The story line is going to be two men (50's and fiesty) laying claim to a prosperous mine with both having an even stake. The two go into town for supplies, too long at the saloon getting liqured up and saying way to much. They accidentally shoot a bartender in the shoulder any get put in jail by the crooked sheriff and judge. They are banished from town along with a stipulation from the judge that if either man kills the other he would be hanged. The judge, sheriff and various townspeople come gunning for the two in hopes that the town will get the mine and the fortune. Little does the town know that the two men have employed a gun for hire to protect them until a telegram from the County Seat arrives stating the absurdity of the sentence, and that in fact if either of the two die the town will be held responsible.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, for starters, Deadwood didn't exist before 1876, so you will need to do something else with your characters between the end of the Civil War and their arrival in Deadwood. Mining was happening out in Montana before that, so maybe that's a place to start?

    This is from the introductory page on mining, found on Montana History Wiki online:

    The lure of gold brought a great influx of settlers to Idaho and Montana during the early 1860s. First centered around Bannack and Virginia City, the miners quickly spread out around the territory seeking new gold fields. The early settlements were governed by mining districts, which set rules for claiming land, recorded the claims, and provided a primitive form of government. The early claims were predominantly placer mines, but by 1870 there were a significant number of underground quartz mines. These mines required a large investment in stamp mills, reduction works, and smelters to treat the ore. Different mining districts produced different metals depending on the geology of the area. For example, Bannack, Virginia City, and Marysville were predominantly gold; Philipsburg was predominantly silver and manganese; and Butte was predominantly copper.

    Deadwood isn't the only place you could pick for the kind of story you're developing. In a way, because of the TV series, Deadwood is a bit of a cliche. If I were you, I'd cast my net a bit wider, and try to find a location that would fit the story you want to tell, but isn't one that lots of other people have already chosen for similar stories. It'll be more fun for you, fitting little-known 'facts' into your fiction, and will make your story unique.
     
  7. old cogger
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    Sounds good. I can start on that and new research. What did you think of the storyline?
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think the story has a lot of potential, but probably only in a fictional setting.

    You will struggle to set a story that involves the entire town, sheriffs, etc, in a place where it didn't actually happen.

    If you like Deadwood, make up a town that is similar, give it another name, set it in a vaguely recognisable place, give rivers, mountains, etc, fictional names. Then you can do whatever you want. If you set it in a real territory, and underpin it with real events (and maybe real people) it will have an air of authenticity to it. However, because the actual town is fictional, you won't have people coming to you saying ''that didn't happen," or "that couldn't have happened because..."

    I know I set my own story in a fictional part of Montana, 'about an 9-day horseback ride west (and slightly north) of Helena, near to the Northern Pacific rail route. I named the valley, the river that runs through the valley, the town and one of the prominent mountains in the area ...all are fictional. However, all OTHER settings and certainly dates and lifestyle details are real, so while it's not pin-pointable, I think the flavour is reasonably authentic. This works pretty well. I hope...!
     
  9. old cogger
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    Gives me something to research tonight. How many subplots do you use in a story? I was reading Louis Lamour last night and he had at lest two in the first chapter (The Shadow Riders)
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, I don't know. My novel is set in the west, but it's not a 'Western' at all, and doesn't follow a formula. I don't know that I have 'subplots' as such, although I have quite a few important characters. But they are all sort of aiming in the same direction, and everything comes to a head for all of them at the same time.

    However, the new one I'm working on —which is a direct sequel to my first, with some of the same characters taken to a different setting— WILL have a couple of subplots. At least two and maybe three. But again, this will be another novel, not a genre Western.

    You could do worse than get hold of a copy of Matt Braun's How To Write Western Novels, ISBN 0-89879-321-1

    I don't know if this is still in print, but if it's not, you should be able to order it 'used' from an online bookseller like Amazon, or abebooks.com.
     
  11. old cogger
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    Thanks again. Will send you an Autographed copy of my first book when I get it done
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I look forward to that! Good luck. And have fun!

    BTW, I just checked. The Matt Braun book IS still for sale on Amazon, where you can get a used copy for under $2, plus postage. I highly recommend it.
     
  13. shunoshi
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    I just ordered a copy myself. Thanks for the recommendation. :)
     
  14. old cogger
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    [quote"shunoshi, post: 1181642, member: 56935"]I just ordered a copy myself. Thanks for the recommendation. :)[/quote]
    Here is the plot so far, The flat (in Griffen Texas) is in desperate need of law and order in an open town in 1881. Civil townspeople form a committee to find a sheriff that will bring order to the town. They send a telegram to a mutual frind that fought with them in the civil war, William Furbish, sheriff of Arkansas who just happens to be an ex slave. Furbish rides to Texas to look over the situation (Which is very risky). After surveying the matter he reccomends a sheriff from the north (a Lt Col in the northern army Billy Browning from Carthage Missouri.

    Thats all I have, ficticious characters, genuine characters, and original settings. Any ideas?
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @old cogger
    [/QUOTE]

    The story idea sounds excellent. I love the fact that the story involves a sheriff who was an ex-slave. In that part of Texas at that time, this would be a totally controversial choice, and would bring lots of problems (good for writing!) to the situation that has nothing to do with restoring order to the town.

    However, Fort Griffin, Texas is/was a real place, and you'll have lots of folks swarming up and down your butt if you don't get the details of the place and time right, or make things happen there that didn't happen.

    I mean, it's okay to use a real location if your story is personal, and only involves somebody who LIVES there in a nondescript way, but if you're re-writing the town's actual history you might have trouble.

    If this were me, I'd use Fort Griffin as a model (and it's an excellent one, with LOTS of story potential) and make up another name. That way you can do anything you want, and nobody can say you didn't do your research—or pop up to inform you that their great-grandpappy WAS the sheriff of Griffin in 1881, and his name was James Roberts, and he was not an ex-slave, etc...

    Don't be afraid to fictionalise your story location. Its fun, and it gives you lots of scope to create.
     
  16. old cogger
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    True, I will just make up a town as a pseudo name for Griffen. I would like to have a character that readers can follow thru my many books, and just change locations and circumstances (like possibly marrying a Lakota Squaw and the problems that will present.
     
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, get cracking on it, and good luck! Sounds like you'll have fun with this.
     

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